As the city of Toronto grapples with housing the homeless this winter, a 13-storey Toronto Community Housing (TCH) building that's sitting virtually vacant at Church and Carlton Streets will soon be renovated and turned into affordable housing. 

The 274-unit building has been mostly empty since June 2016, after the city moved tenants out to prepare it for renovations. 

On Jan. 15, 2018, the building's last tenant, a women's transition-to-housing program, operated by the Fred Victor Centre, will be relocated. 

"We want to move residents out of there as soon as possible," said Coun. Ana Bailão, who represents Ward 18, Davenport and is the city's housing advocate.

"We need to empty the building, prepare it for construction as soon as possible."

So, why in a city where thousands are homeless is a building that could house almost 300 people sitting vacant, and why has it taken so long to convert it into affordable housing?

Built in the 1970s, the building is set up like a dorm, with shared kitchens and washrooms. As conditions worsened, fewer people wanted to move in, leaving many rooms unoccupied. 

289 Church Street

289 Church St. is in disrepair, according to the city. (Petar Valkov/CBC)

In 2015, city council voted to fix up the residential portion of the property. In early 2017, it approved $500,000, with the total cost of the project estimated at $34 million.

The city plans to gut the units at 389 Church St., making way for about 120 affordable rental apartments with their own kitchens and washrooms. 

In a report to its board of directors, asking it to approve the renovation, TCH CEO Kathy Milsom said "leaving the building in its current state and vacant is socially unacceptable and financially costly if allowed to deteriorate." 

The board will vote on the renovation on Monday, Dec. 11. 

Meanwhile, as the units sit empty, TCH is still incurring $300,000 a year in operating costs while still receiving the residual subsidy of $451,000. 

"We finally got financing and our provincial counterparts to the table," said Bailão. "The most important thing is the long term solution." 

The project would also need council approval, and Bailão feels optimistic that approval is coming. She's hoping construction will begin as early as March or April 2018 with the apartments ready by early 2019.